Strong women in law: A reflection on the WBAI Annual Dinner

The Women’s Bar Association of Illinois (WBAI) Annual Dinner, held on May 30 this year, is always one of the most well attended events in the Chicago legal community, drawing over 700 lawyers, judges, and dignitaries. At this year’s dinner, the WBAI installed Corinne C. Heggie as president, as well as its other officers and directors for 2019-20.

Following a lively reception, the guests filtered into the Grand Ballroom at the Hilton Chicago. Margaret A. Manetti then gave the welcoming remarks, followed by an invocation by Father Jeremiah Boland. During the WBAI dinner, two distinguished members of WBAI and the legal community were honored.

Stephanie A. Scharf, who is a founding partner of Chicago’s largest women-owned law firm, Scharf Banks Marmor LLC, received the Myra Bradwell Woman of Achievement Award. Scharf received a Ph.D. in behavioral sciences and a J.D. from the University of Chicago. Before practicing law, she was senior study director at NORC, at the University of Chicago, where she designed, analyzed, and reported on a range of survey research projects. She represented businesses in complex litigation for 32 years as a partner at Kirkland & Ellis and Jenner & Block prior to starting her current firm. Scharf is one of the nation’s leading lawyers for advancing women in the law and has designed and conducted a broad range of empirical studies about women in the law.

Ms. Scharf has also served as the chair of the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession and co-chairs the ABA Presidential Initiative, Achieving Long-term Careers for Women Lawyers. This initiative focuses especially on innovative research projects, which are being conducted in collaboration with the American Bar Foundation. As an aspiring attorney, Ms. Sharf’s inspiring speech and words of wisdom, left me feeling empowered. Often times, female law students find ourselves faced with imposter syndrome and second guessing our decisions. Seeing an extremely accomplished and experienced attorney give a speech about the impact that we can make was nothing short of remarkable.
Next, the incoming President, Corinne Cantwell Heggie, was sworn in by Justice Thomas L. Kilbride of the Illinois Supreme Court. Heggie is an owner of Wochner Law Firm LLC, a firm dedicated to helping individuals and companies preserve their wealth. Before joining the Wochner Law Firm, Heggie practiced as a partner at a national law firm and then as counsel at the largest majority women-owned law firm in Illinois. She has chaired several events and committees in service to the WBAI and has also spoken about diversity in the legal profession on the WBAI’s behalf at the Northwest Suburban Bar Association and St. Louis University College of Law.

Maggie Hickey, a partner and practice group leader at Schiff Hardin LLP, delivered the keynote address for the evening. Hickey has a wealth of experience in internal investigations, compliance programs, sexual harassment issues in the workplace, and ethics training. In 2015, she was appointed executive inspector general for the Agencies of the Illinois Governor, an independent executive branch state agency that ensures accountability across state government, nine state public universities, and four Chicago-area regional transportation boards.

During her powerful speech, Hickey delivered a phrase that resonated with the whole room: “Nice is a superpower.” She went on to explain that it is “nice to be important but more important to be nice.” Oftentimes, being nice is seen as a weakness in attorneys as it may convey a message of being a “push-over.” But, as Hickey explained, we must “choose respect, decency, and kindness” in order to uphold the civility and sanctity of the legal profession. Being nice and a zealous advocate are not mutually exclusive.

I, along with a few of my classmates from the University Of Illinois College Of Law, left the evening with ambition running through us. Being surrounded by attorneys and judges who have all left their impact on the legal profession inspired us to strive further and earn our place among the remarkable professionals who attended the WBAI annual dinner. Strong women in law are paving the way to a day when it won’t come as a surprise when a woman is in a position of power.

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July 2019Volume 50Number 1PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)